In his recent essay “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” Peter Beinart laments the disconnect young
liberal American Jews feel from Israel and the American organizations that support it (i.e. AIPAC). He argues that Zionist organizations have moved rightward with the Israeli government and have largely shut out liberal dissent: “…by defending virtually anything any Israeli government does, they make themselves intellectual bodyguards for Israeli leaders who threaten the very liberal values they profess to admire.” Jonathan Chait’s response pushed back against Beinart’s idea that the leaders of the American Jewish community repress criticism of Israel. In a two–part (and counting) conversation with Beinart, Jeffrey Goldberg discusses how different groups of Jews view how much the Palestinians are to blame, if at all, for the current problems, among other issues in Beinart’s essay. But I think that Chait and Goldberg miss one of Beinart’s most forceful arguments:
This obsession with victimhood lies at the heart of why Zionism is dying among America’s secular Jewish young. It simply bears no relationship to their lived experience, or what they have seen of Israel’s. Yes, Israel faces threats from Hezbollah and Hamas. Yes, Israelis understandably worry about a nuclear Iran. But the dilemmas you face when you possess dozens or hundreds of nuclear weapons, and your adversary, however despicable, may acquire one, are not the dilemmas of the Warsaw Ghetto. The year 2010 is not, as Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed, 1938. The drama of Jewish victimhood—a drama that feels natural to many Jews who lived through 1938, 1948, or even 1967—strikes most of today’s young American Jews as farce.
As a self-identifying young-liberal-American-Jewish-Zionist, i.e. a member of the exact demographic Beinart wishes were larger, I agree completely. When Jews make up 25% of Harvard undergraduates, when the New York Times op-ed page has pieces by Krugman, Brooks, and Cohen, it’s hard to feel like a victim. When I stayed in Israel for a few days after my Birthright trip this past January, I felt no need to see more of the sites; I was happy to enjoy the beaches and cafés of Tel Aviv, enjoying the world-class city Israelis have built from scratch in the past half-century.
Israel’s Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, has a more positive message than, say, the Holocaust museum in DC. Its architecture reinforces that; there are some light and some dark areas in the building, and the museum’s exit overlooks the (beautiful) hills of Jerusalem. I think that we are at the exit of the museum, that we have this beautiful, modern country, and we are content with nothing more than peace within the current borders. And I think that my fellow youths feel similarly. We want to focus on what’s outside the museum, not what’s inside it. My generation feels as if we’ve largely overcome the history of victimization, and we’d respond better to arguments which don’t break down for someone who believes that today’s Jews, American and Israeli, are a wealthy and powerful people who deserve a state but who can withstand threats often portrayed as existential.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons (David Shankbone)